Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Random conversations can be serious conversations

    Nixon says to me this morning "Mom, do you know where I'm super ticklish?", I guess the usual body parts: feet, tush, belly. He says "Nope. Right here" and starts tickling his groin area.
   Oh sweet chili pepper on the vine!

   Now, there are a couple ways to handle this. Tell him to stop doing that immediately, and make him feel shame for finding pleasure in touching his own body, or simply talk to him about it. Guess what I did?

me: Nixon, I'm glad you found a place that makes you feel good when you touch it on your body but let's talk about this for a minute.
Nixon: Okay. Wanna tickle me?
me: Nixon, that's kind of the thing I want to talk to you about. You should be the only person to tickle your peenie right now. You're big enough that you don't need mom or dad to touch you there, unless you're sick or hurt. Your friends shouldn't touch you there (yet) and unless mom or dad is in the room with you, even a doctor shouldn't touch you there.
Nixon: Oh. OKay.
me: Has anyone ever tried to tickle you there?
Nixon: No.
me: Good. If anyone ever does, you tell mom or dad. Or another adult.
Nixon: But I can tickle it?
me: Of course! I like tickling myself, even though I don't have a peenie. And Dad tickles himself. Lots of people tickle themselves because it feels good, but they only do it alone and not in front of other people (yet). The rules change when you get older, but for now, if you want to tickle yourself you can do it in your bedroom. Just tell us you want some alone time.
Nixon: Okay!
me: Just wash your hands when you're done!
Nixon: Ok-ay!

    Was it a little uncomfortable? Not really. He's 6, he's not really asking about masturbation. He's discovered something that feels good and he wanted to share it with me. That's awesome! That's a great sign about the bond and the relationship I'm building with him. My parenting style isn't for everyone, but I never had open talks with my parents. I was shamed about my body explorations instead of talked to about them. It wasn't helpful. My takeaway from that was to do the exact opposite when/if I became a parent.

   Pretty sure I'm doing exactly that with Nixon. And it feels good.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The importance of raising a son

   Lately there have been tons of blogs about raising daughters. Teaching them to respect themselves, demand respect of boys, focus on education and more things along those lines.

   While I understand all that, there needs to be more about raising sons to respect women and at the same time put less of a focus on being "macho".

   I've been dealing this with the past few days with Nixon.

   Last week, Nixon lost one of his ghost shrimps. He (Midnight) died and Nixon was heartbroken! I found him before bedtime and Nixon almost cried himself to sleep. Poor kiddo. It was his first dead pet. We talked about death. I made sure he knew that even if Midnight was gone from his life, he'll live on in his heart.
   Today in the car, Nixon mentioned Midnight and got quiet. I asked him if he was okay and he says to me "Yeah, I'm okay. I just need to be a big, brave boy." WHAT?!? Where in the hell did he get that idea? I've NEVER said anything like that to him!
   I told him it's okay to be sad and even cry if he's sad and misses Midnight. That being sad and crying doesn't mean he's not brave. I told him even "big, brave men" sometimes feel sad and cry, and it doesn't make him any less of a boy for admitting he was sad over a lost friend.
    It bothered me. It really bothered me that my son thought he had to be brave around me, of all people! Why do boys have to be brave all the time? Why can't they show emotions and be called names? Boy or girl, we're all humans and we have emotions, some are emotions of sadness and they're all normal.

   The second issue I've been facing head-on with Nixon involves other people and respect. It's a tough issue to address. It's hard to know how to bring up the topic, especially with a 6-year old! But, I'm doing it and Mac is helping.
   The issue is really all about consent and respect. We are a very touchy family. We hug, kiss, tickle and "tackle" each other all the time. And sometimes, Nixon doesn't stop when he hears "no" or "stop". I decided this weekend, after Nixon throwing cotton snowballs at me for almost an hour, even after I'd said "STOP!" more than 3 times, that I needed to step up and talk to him about it.
   It happened again, when Mac was tickling Nixon. They were in Nixon's bedroom and I heard Nixon laughing and then he'd say stop, but laugh again. This was the perfect moment! I walked in and asked Mac to stop tickling Nixon and asked Nixon to look at me.
    I tried to keep it simple, "Nixon, you know how Dad just stopped ticking you when you said stop? That's because Dad respects you and your body, when you said stop he listened." I went from there, explaining that he needs to have the same respect for us and everyone in his life, even friends at school. I explained "no" means no and if he hears "no" or "stop" he should stop whatever action he was doing when he hears those words.

   Ultimately, we spend so much time empowering girls an blaming boys biology for their actions, that we forget that, with early talks we can also change boys and help them realize/respect girls. We need to raise boys to see girls as equals and we need to raise girls to believe they are equal to boys!

   For me, it's a struggle. I never heard positive things from either of my parents about myself. My emotional well-being was not considered and I had more than one unhealthy relationship as a result. I love the relationship Nixon and I have. I love that we hug and kiss and play together, because I have few memories from my own childhood and my parents like that with me. I hope that, because we have such a strong relationship, Nixon and I will continue to have these conversations and he'll retain the information and come to me if he has questions. I take every opportunity I have with him, to teach and share. I want him to be a wonderful, kind, caring and respectful person in society, when time comes for him to leave me.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Explaining MLK Jr to a 6-year old

    Today Nixon and Mac had the day off. We went out to breakfast and enjoyed some family time together.
   On the way to breakfast, I asked Nixon if he knew why he had the day off. Nixon's answer was "Yes. I have no school because I didn't have to go today". He's so smart.

   I smiled to myself and decided to share who Martin Luther King Jr was and why we remember him. I tried to keep it as simple as possible, he's only 6, but I wanted to give him some sort of lesson about the man.
   "Nixon, there once was a time when people who had skin like Uncle K or Miss A couldn't work for themselves or vote or even get a good education. They worked for white families and were called slaves. Martin Luther King Jr spoke out against the unfairness that people of color were subjected too. He led marches for equality. He was brave because lots people fought against the changes he was marching for.
    Eventually, he was killed. But he helped lead the way for change to happen."

   I can't say Nixon understood, but I gave him a cheat sheet version of history. When he's older we'll discuss it more.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014: A look back at what made this year special

   As I spend the last hour of 2014 with my family (I'm heading out to a friend's house for the New Year), I thinking of how much our family changed this year. We moved, Mac retired, Nixon started Kindergarten, I went back to work and Mac was the stay-at-home parent for a while. We also faced unknown behavioral issues with Nixon, taking on medical professionals and the school to get answers. The answers came and, for some, it'd be a tough pill to swallow for us it was a starting point. A challenge to tackle.

   This year was our year of change. While you never stop changing this year saw us change in HUGE ways. And through it all, we stayed strong. Mac and I faced the school boards together, a united front for Nixon. I dug in deep and sought answers. I faced the boards with information and a cool head. A task not always easy (especially when his teacher sat in a meeting rolling her eyes and dismissing me when she didn't like what I was saying).

   I was unwittingly given a new title. One of advocate. I'm not Nixon's advocate, to everyone. Not everyone will accept, see or understand that Nixon has Asperger's. Many people will see a child acting out, melting down and being disruptive. I see a child overwhelmed and unsure of how to process his overload. I have to explain to friends, family members, strangers who might ask and anyone else why Nixon is special. Why a trip home to Buffalo resulted in a giant-sized meltdown on Thanksgiving Day.

   But I'm not perfect. I have my bad days. I have days that I don't handle Nixon as well as I should. I have exhausted outbursts and annoyed exclamations. I have shitty moments where I wish he was just "normal". I have moments of weakness where I find myself envying friends whose children are riding bicycles without training wheels because Nixon can't even pedal a bike without using pedal straps. I have anxiety attacks when the school calls, wondering what Nixon did now and if anyone was hurt. I'm angry his teacher can't see beyond his actions. I'm hurt that Nixon is THAT kid in his classroom. But most of all, I wish I didn't have the guilt I feel every day thinking somehow I did this to him. I know this is not my fault, but life for him would be so much easier without these issues.

   So, next year I'm going to be more understanding. More tolerant. A bigger advocate, louder advocate. I'm going to embrace Nixon the way he is. Because he's a pretty fucking awesome kiddo! And he's my baby boy. (He said I can call him that forever!)

Mac's retirement ceremony

Nixon's preschool graduation ceremony
Nixon's first day of Kindergarten

Monday, December 15, 2014

The school's verdict is in.....

    What a struggle these past few weeks have been.
    Nixon and I took a trip home to Western New York for Thanksgiving, our flight was delayed 6 hours. We settled into a quiet(ish) corner of the terminal and waited. Nixon was pretty awesome just playing games, reading, asking to walk when he was tired of sitting and generally just chilling. We got on the plane a little before midnight and Nixon fell asleep 5 minutes later. He slept the entire flight!

   My family was privy to more than one Nixon meltdown. Those were my fault and in hindsight I wouldn't have pushed so much on him in such an unfamiliar setting. Especially not during the holidays. 

   All in all, it wasn't awful.

   But when it was time for Nixon to return back to school, after a week off, he struggled. A lot. First day back he spent almost 2 hours out of class. 
  By the end of the week, he was out of class only 20 minutes. 
  By the following week, 5 minutes one day and an hour another day. The hour day was a day the school had 2 assemblies. Nixon never does well on assembly days. Way too much stimulation. 

   Thursday, December 11th, I had a meeting with the IEP (individual education plan) board to get the results of the tests they'd done with Nixon. His teacher was there, in addition to the rest of the board plus a note taker. 
    After almost an hour of going over the testers findings, I finally heard the board's opinion and Nixon and his behaviors. They found he is on the Autism Spectrum, high-functioning more commonly known as Asperger's as well as ADHD. They are going to develop an IEP for him. I was asked if I'd be willing to come in and sit down with the Special Education teacher to weigh in with my thoughts and what I'd like to see the IEP provide for his education needs. The top of that list is: I'd like to see him in a smaller classroom setting for the morning instructional time. He has the most issues during those times and has said on more than one occasion that he prefers a quiet, empty classroom to do his work in. (He's been losing recess time recently and he actually likes doing his work without his classmates in the room.)

    His teacher is just....well, I'm going to just add the posts from my facebook status the day of the IEP results meeting:
   I survived. No tears, very little combativeness from me and lots of support from his administrators!

Nixon does have autism, he's high-functioning and would be classified as having Asperger's. He also has ADHD, which when added with the Asperger's makes for a very difficult approach to the IEP. 
BUT he does qualify for an IEP!
I've been asked to sit down with the Special Education teacher and help develop parts of his IEP. I'm truly, beyond words, grateful for the offer. 
One of the biggest results of this is: Nixon is super bright! He knows things but needs a different approach to learning new things. 

He dislikes writing. A lot! But, from what I was informed of today, this is not uncommon for people on the spectrum. The county has methods beyond pen and paper, that will be available to Nixon when his IEP is drawn up!

No one is writing him off! These adults in place to support Nixon when he's at school, see him as a loving and bright child! The diagnoses only change the approaches and methods to teaching him, not their views on him. With the exception of his teacher (who at one point during the meeting was rolling her eyes and looking at the ceiling!), no one ever thought he was just a "bad" child. Everyone wanted to help solve the puzzle that is Nixon, and we did! We have a label, with have a title, we have a starting point!

Yes, Nixon is autistic and has ADHD, but he is still Nixon! He's still a bright, loving, happy child and most of all: He's still my baby boy!
That being said, I nearly beat his teacher in the face! Not literally, but in my head I knocked her fucking teeth out of her face!
I brought up that, taking recess time away from Nixon was not effective. 
She countered that "he's still out there, he's still playing"
I replied, "Yes, but he's losing some time to do earlier work and he ENJOYS the quiet classroom setting when everyone else is outside."
She said "No, he's still out there, he's not losing time from recess."
I calmly, but firmly, responded (grabbing papers to support my next claim) "I have multiple minor incident reports and behavior sheets showing Nixon has lost time from recess to do work, in the classroom he was unable to complete earlier."
This bitch rolled her eyes!! Rolled her fucking eyes at me and says "OH, yeah well sometimes....." then trails off and doesn't even finish her sentence. 
I continue "I don't think it's effective as a tool because Nixon has told me he prefers a quieter classroom setting, without to "noise" of the other classmates when he's doing him required learning."

The special education teacher also added, when Nixon has been in her classroom to do work, he's much more focused and agreeable to do otherwise difficult tasks. 
I'm glad there were witnesses to the entire ordeal. 
Afterwards, bitch comes into my personal space to tell me how wonderful she thinks Nixon is. As if that's going to make me forget you just tried to shut me down in the meeting!

 I actually don't mind him loosing recess time. His hardest transition is from recess to learning again. So, Nixon being in there doing work actually helps him transition easier. 

It's not an effective tool, but he doesn't mind. He actually enjoys the pure quiet some days.
 BTW it's always so uncomfortable for me to hear from other people what a great parent I am for advocating for Nixon. 
I don't get why that's something to be acknowledged. Isn't every parent their child's advocate? Doesn't every child have a voice coming from their parents? 

I had the OT that did the sensory tests with Nixon, say to me as we were leaving the meeting "You are such a wonderful mom, for listening and speaking up for Nixon. He's really lucky to have you in his corner."

      January 7th is my next meeting with the IEP board. At that time the official IEP will be gone over and it will be implemented immediately.

      The diagnosis is only the beginning, but with it comes a starting point.
I spoke to a couple members of the board at the conclusion of our meeting. They said they wished more parents were so accepting of their child's test results and diagnosis as I was.  My response was "If my child was sick I'd more the heavens to get answers. If the answer was cancer, I'd treat the cancer. This diagnosis is no different. It's not changing who Nixon is, but it's giving us all something to "treat" to help him be successful in school."
The Vice Principal laughed and said "Nixon's got a strong support system in you alone, Mom."  I think they're starting to understand my sense of humor too. I left most of my anxiety behind when I left that meeting room that day. I know Nixon's going to struggle, but I also know I'm not alone the school wants to help me, help us, help Nixon. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The unofficial official diagnosis....from a medical professional

   Nixon had an appointment yesterday with a child psychologist. We set this up to help get answers about his behavior issues in school.

    I found out several things yesterday, one of which being I "read too much". That was told to me by the doctor. She was asking for the issues with Nixon, and why I was seeking a consult for him regarding being on the Autism Spectrum. I started telling her things I'd read, and behaviors Nixon had. She told me "stop researching and tell me what his issues are". Then she observed Nixon.

    Yes, Nixon does have textural issues. Yes, he does have SPD (sensory processing disorder). Yes, he is quick to frustration and acts on impulse when agitated.

    But, he doesn't have any social issues. He grasps empathy, understands 2 part questions asked to him and a few other things.

    The cut and dry of it is: He has ADHD and is not on the spectrum. He has coordination issues and is behaviorally immature, but he is not autistic.

    The way she explained it to me, thankfully with a chart, is: In order to determine someone is autistic, they first have to meet all 3 categories in the social interactions portion. Not just one. They have to have a negative in all 3 of those.
   Nixon had none.
   In addition, they likely will have up to 4 negatives in the behavioral categories.
   Nixon had 2 with a partial in a third category.

   Since we didn't get the questionnaire packet for his teacher prior to the appointment, she can not give us an official diagnosis. She needs the teacher's portion completed before she can do that. We'll have to schedule a follow-up and bring it then. At that appointment we'll discuss tools to help Nixon succeed.

    I don't know what the IEP findings will show. They're still testing him for that at school.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The struggle.....and my breaking point

    Nixon had a rough week last week. Monday was pretty horrific, Tuesday (election day) was no school, Wednesday and Friday weren't awful but far from great and Thursday was he best day of the week (only 10 minutes outside of the classroom).

    One of the biggest things that struck me, when I had to go to school on Monday and calm Nixon down, is there was a new student in the class. Now, Nixon knew her name on Wednesday and offered to help walk her to class, so that's a plus. Normally new people are identified by their shirt/hair/skin color. I adored watching him see the new student was nervous (although I don't think he identified that emotion, I think he was just happy to see a friend he knew), and using her name (!!) asked if he could walk to class with her. Her mother had tears in her eyes when she and I walked to our respective cars. And I'll admit, I did as well.
   Now, even though Nixon seems okay with her, just the fact that there's a new student is enough to send his world into a tailspin. And tailspin he did.
    All I can do is hope today is a better day.

    There's a class field trip next month. It's outside, at a farm and will be held rain or shine. In December!! I struggled and talked to Mac about it, ultimately deciding I'm going to keep him home that day and (hopefully) arrange something for us to do at the state park I worked at this summer. The class is studying trees, so I know the park has them.
   I just remember Nixon on a class field trip last year with his preschool. Even though I was there he still freaked out and had a couple meltdowns. I just feel like sending him on this one, in the cold!!, is setting him up for failure. I can't go on the trip because I have other things I have to do during the day that prevents me going as a chaperon.

    Finally, last night I cried. I cried a hard and ugly cry.
   One of my best friends posed a picture that her husband and son (a year younger than Nixon) drew together. I loved it, it was super cute! But it reminded me that Nixon is still drawing people as big circles with sticks for arms and legs. I'd be ecstatic if Nixon drew a conventional stick person!
   Another friend had posted a video, not too long ago, of her son (2 years younger than Nixon) tying his own shoelaces. Mac and I were crazy excited yesterday because Nixon zipped his own coat! Tying shoelaces?!? That's sci-fi shit to us right now.

    Those two things just broke me. It really made me realize how special Nixon is. I'm adjusting because some things are glaringly clear: Nixon is not where some of his peers are. But we're not giving up, he'll get there when he's ready. But I had a moment of sadness. I'm better today and I'd never break like that in front of Nixon. He's nothing but perfect to me.